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Five Ways to Assess Your Book Cover Design (Writers Series #3)

This is the third in a series of posts to provide perspective on the business of writing, leveraging a marketing professional’s experience. In this installment, learn how to assess the work of a book cover designer.

The prior article points out that, in a cluttered environment, your book only has seconds to interest a reader.

We need great design to break through and grab attention.

If you have the good fortune to work directly with a designer, here are principles on how to assess the designs they present to you.

1.  Be a great collaborator with designers.

Respect the expertise the designer brings to the project. It’s often human nature to see the negative first. So, take a disciplined approach and assess the creative work against the brief, not based on personal taste. Where does the design deliver the objectives in the brief? Where does it fall short?

The early rounds of design may be rough, for conceptual direction. If that’s the case, assess the design for the concept rather than the details. Good early rounds may also explore a broad range of concepts – this is helpful for determining when you’ve pushed the envelope enough.

Remember that feedback is an art.

Find several aspects you like and share the positives first. Then, share constructive builds with empathy. Provide feedback on WHAT needs to be changed, not executional specifics on HOW to change it. Consider:

  • Where does your eye go 1st, 2nd, 3rd?
  • Does this match up with what you stated in the creative brief’s hierarchy?
  • How well do the designs deliver the single most important message?

When assessing design, here are some known design principles that are helpful:

  • People see shapes / colors before numbers / letters. This is one reason that the consistency of font is important from book to book, particularly within a series but even across series.
  • Red and yellow tend to be the most disruptive colors. Brown and blue tend to be noticed less.
  • In Western countries, people scan left to right.
  • Consider legibility and tonality of Font (contemporary styles tend to be sans serif, traditional styles are usually serif fonts)

2.  The design should provide a long-term look.

Identify what will stay and what will change. For instance, observe how Anabelle Bryant’s covers above keep consistent the font of the book title and author name, as well as the intensity of colors and depiction of hero and heroine. Meanwhile, each cover is unique in its color scheme and physical placement of the characters.

3.  Leverage simplicity to break through.

If there are multiple objectives to communicate or too many design elements, the eye doesn’t know where to go. In contrast, simplicity of design shown above breaks through.

4.  Assess design in context

Assess design in context of your primary distribution channel. If your work will mainly be distributed electronically, assess the work as a thumbnail next to book covers from the same genre. How well do your covers stand out and communicate their key essence with a quick glance? If they’ll primarily be physically available on shelf, then the spine of the book is paramount. 

Assess the spine for instant appeal and recognizability within other titles of the same genre: If you’re expecting substantial display in-store, then assess the front cover design at full size.

5.  Ask about execution.

Will images be photographed, illustrated or purchased from stock sources? If stock images will be used, will your cover have exclusive rights to the image? If not, you could find that same image on another book cover, which hampers your distinctiveness.

What special print processes will be used? Which portions of the design will receive special embossing, or other print effects?

To recap, design is a critical tool to break through in crowded environments. If you have the good fortune to work directly with a designer, be a great collaborator by assessing creative ideas against the brief rather than personal taste. Think about the elements of design which will be consistent over the long term. Leverage simplicity to break through. Assess design in context of the book’s primary distribution channel. Ask about the execution of the design.

Design is an exciting part of bringing a book to market. Enjoy this portion of the creative process!

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